A Beginner Guide to Catfish Farming

Prepared for Fish Farming Trainees

at

ADRAP / INDRAP LEARNING VOCATIONAL AND SKILL ACQUISITION CENTRE

by

 Adeola David Adelakun – Director, Piscine Paces Aqua Resources.

INTRODUCTION

A Beginner Guide to Catfish Farming

Fish farming is one of the many components of the fisheries value chain. there are different units / components of the fisheries value chain. Trainees may choose to create a business around one or more of the individual units of the fisheries value chain that suits them. The objective is to create value in form of fish and/or fish products to satisfy customer needs while maximizing profit.

A Beginner Guide to Catfish Farming

The following are some of the components of the fisheries value chain.

A Beginner Guide to Catfish Farming

  • Fish grow-out – This entails growing of fish fingerlings in ponds for a given period, after which adult (table sized) fish is harvested.
  • Fish processing – Here, value is added to grown fish stock to improve customer appeal, preserve the fish for longer periods or simply create variety. Common examples include smoke-drying, sun drying or freezing of fish.
  • Fish feed production – Individuals may choose to simply produce fish feed for sale to other fish farmers.
  • Fish breeding – This entails production of fish fingerlings in a hatchery where fish eggs are incubated and hatchlings can be nursed.
  • Marketing – Buying and selling of fish and/or products of fish processing can be a business venture that engages an entrepreneur well enough.

This training focuses on equipping trainees with the basic knowledge needed to start out well in the grow-out fish farming business.

Fish Farming / Fish Grow-out

Grow-out fish farmers basically keep and care for fish from fingerlings stage till they attain adult / table size. The fish stock is harvested and sold at that stage when they are good enough for customers to consume.

The grow-out fish farmer’s main assignment is therefore to help the fish to convert feed (fish food) to body weight. A number of factors can determine how well the fish are able to convert feed taken into flesh. This has to do with overall fish well-being during the period for which they are raised by the grow-out fish farmer.

To ensure that fish do well throughout this period, there are certain considerations the farmer must make, even before starting out on the fish farming business. For the purpose of this training, the focus is on Clarias catfish, which is a widely accepted and more easily handled fish species in the environment where trainees operate.

The following are some of the checks to carry out in order to enhance profitable fish production at grow-out fish farming.

  1. THE SITE

An ideal location for fish farming should have the following conditions met.

  • Climate of the area should be such that favours the life of the fish chosen to be raised – this is why this training focuses on catfish, a specie that optimally thrives in our environment.
  • It should not be prone to flooding that can sweep away farm items and fish stock. Typically, a gentle sloping land where pond water can controllably flow in and out by gravity is preferred.
  • It should have the possibility of protection from theft, predator and other unwanted invasions.
  • It should be easily accessible to person(s) would care for the fish regularly and the potential customers who would be expected to buy the fish at harvest.
  • It should be an area where less expensive, good quality and quantity of water is easily accessible for fish farming activities (water quality and quantity is discussed as a heading below)
  • Such an area should be close to a channel through which waste water can be discharged without constituting nuisance to others in the area.

2. THE COST

It is a smart decision as a would-be grow-out fish farmer to project the cost involved in raising the exact number of fish proposed. This helps inform necessary decision making as to whether or not a farmer is able to sustain the venture.

Since the farmer’s target is to maximize weight gained by fish for every weight of feed used, it would be inappropriate to be inconsistent with caring for the fish, as they may lose weight gained to unhealthy interruptions. One simple way to project cost of raising fish over a given period is to add up the following costs;

  • Cost of acquisition of fish fingerlings.
  • Cost of all feeds required for the entire grow-out period (total weight of feed required throughout the growing period can be roughly estimated to be about the same as the total weight of fish proposed to be harvested – this is often the case when catfish is grown using good quality fish feed).
  • Cost of water supply to the fish ponds throughout the growing period (this could simply be the cost of fueling and maintaining a water pump for the number of days the fish would be grown).
  • Payments (if in cash) to the farm hand who attends to the fish in this period (this could be yourself as the trainee on this program).
  • Other costs, such as fares payable to visit farm sites, cost of medications, wages payable to artisans / consultants, transportation of fish harvests to markets, etc.

3. THE WATER

Because fish depend on water for about all their life activities, water of sufficient quantity and quality must be guaranteed before a fish farming venture is started. Common sources of water that grow-out fish farmers can choose from include Streams, Rivers, Deep wells, Boreholes, Public Taps (State Government water board), rainfall etc.

Evaluating Water QuantityTo do a quick estimate of the quantity of water required for your fish farming venture, you should bear in mind that each catfish fingerling in your proposed stock requires to occupy 10 – 15 liters of water in an open pond space. It doesn’t end there.

It should also be born in mind that this quantity of water would be discharged and refilled on an average of about every 3 days, since fish ponds get loaded with fish wastes that may eventually become unbearable to your fish stock.

A confirmed availability of this quantity of good quality water helps guarantee that a fish stock has adequate space and dissolved oxygen (air to breathe) to effectively convert feed to flesh. We recall that the grow-out fish farmer’s interest is to convert fish feed to fish flesh most effectively.

Evaluating Water Quality – Elementary science teaches that good quality water is colorless, odorless and tasteless. This kind of water also passes for what fish need to live well. However, water for fish farming may not be totally colorless. Water for fish grow-out may be slightly colored with clay, silt or algae particles that are suspended in it.

This condition is known as TURBIDITY of water. To physically examine and judge water suitable for fish farming, you should ascertain that the water is:

  1. Of optimum temperature – typically, water of ambient temperature in trainee’s environment is safe.
  2. Odorless (has no smell)
  3. Not too turbid – A simple, quick way to determine that water proposed for fish farming is not too turbid is by placing your hand submerged in that water. With your hand lowered into the water column to a height just below the elbow, you can conclude that your water turbidity is safe for fish if your hand can still be seen through the water. Water so turbid that you no longer see your hand at all may not be ideal for your fish until it is allowed to settle and be less turbid. The secchi disc (see image below) is a more accurate tool for measuring turbidity.
  4. Free of contaminants e.g., chemicals, oil, sewage, etc.
  5.  Is adequately exposed to air, having some dissolved oxygen in it for fish to breathe – one way to physically check that water has enough air is by spitting some saliva over the water surface. Saliva dropped over well aerated water surface would diffuse in about 1 minute and disappear. Water samples that sustain saliva bubbles for longer indicate insufficient exposure to air. This may stress fish as it could prevent them from breathing so easily when grown in such water. Poorly aerated water can be corrected by using air blower devices or by simply allowing fresh water to sprinkle into it from raised taps or shower heads.
Quick evaluation of turbidity
The secchi disc

4. THE MARKET

It is a better practice to ascertain upfront that there’s an existing market for the type and size of fish you propose to grow. Even though catfish is very widely accepted in our environment, an interaction with key players in the fish market within your reach is of uttermost importance. This gives you an idea of the exact size of fish your customers would readily buy when you sell.

A segment of your customers may prefer fish frown to 300g – 500g average weight while another may demand for fish grown to 2kg average weight. As you advance in business and gain experience, you would come to conclude on which of the customer segments is more profitable to serve in the long run.

CHOOSING YOUR FISH POND TYPE

A Beginner Guide to Catfish Farming

Anumber of options are available when it comes to choosing your fish pond type. Fish ponds can be any of Earthen ponds (dug out ponds), Concrete ponds, Tarpaulin ponds, Cages (suspended in lakes, rivers, or dams), Plastic Ponds etc. The choice of pond to use is mainly determined by the kind of resources available to the farmer.

Concrete fish pond
Dug-out (Earthen fish pond)
Tarpaulin fish pond

A Beginner Guide to Catfish Farming

A farmer who has a naturally swampy land that is not flood prone may opt for earthen ponds while another who has a flood prone swamp may build well reinforced concrete ponds against flooding. A farmer occupying a rented land portion may prefer to use movable tarpaulin or plastic fish ponds, while another who has access to a gently flowing lake may opt for suspended fish cages in the lake.

A Beginner Guide to Catfish Farming

Basically, ponds should be constructed such that they align with the slope of the environment, to enable effective infilling and drainage of pond water by gravity (natural flow). Ensure to have pond outlets installed at the lower end of the pond slope while inlets / supply taps should be installed at the upper end. This helps ensure that used water is able to discharge adequately, while fresh water replaces it accordingly.

A Beginner Guide to Catfish Farming

POND PREPARATION FOR STOCKING

Newly constructed fish ponds often need to be conditioned for safe growing of fish. Most farmers start out their fish grow-out ventures with fingerlings which are usually tender and require adequate care. For this reason, new ponds must be prepared such that toxic remains are completely removed before fish are introduced.

A Beginner Guide to Catfish Farming

Concrete / Tarpaulin Ponds – The process to cure concrete and tarpaulin fish ponds is similar. This curing process helps remove excess remains of cement from concrete pond walls and toxic PVC deposits from tarpaulin ponds. It is as follows;

A Beginner Guide to Catfish Farming

  • Fill up the pond with fresh water.
  • Introduce a good quantity of organic matter into the pond water. Typically used organic materials include leaves, soft stems, poultry droppings, animal (pigs, cattle, goats, rabbits) dung, grain or cereal chaff etc.
  • Bulk organic matter of loose texture can be tied up first in a porous sac or muslin bag, prior to placement in pond water. This will ease evacuation from the ponds during cleaning, after preparation is accomplished.
  • Leave pond with its content open for 96 – 168 hours. During this period, microbial activity upon organic matter in the presence of water will help to enhance absorption of most loose traces of harmful cement or tarpaulin material. One good way to get a hint to how safe the pond will be for fish is to look out for the survival of insect larvae within this pond water. Successfully detoxified ponds should already be colonized by insect larvae by the 4th to 7th day of treatment.

A Beginner Guide to Catfish Farming

(Note that the same objective is also achievable with ordinary clean water if the pond is located in an area where dirty organic matter may constitute nuisance. However, the water should be left to stay for longer. 14 – 21 days is ideal for excess cement deposits to be removed from newly constructed concrete ponds).

A Beginner Guide to Catfish Farming

  • On completion off the 96 – 168-hour period, remove all organic material load within the pond and let out all water.
  • Wash pond thoroughly but carefully using clean water, sponge and common salt. Other mild disinfectants such as wood ash can also be used for this purpose.
  • Rinse pond thoroughly with clean water again and again.
  • Fill pond afresh with good quality water. You may then introduce your fish into the pond while you watch them swim.

Earthen (dug-out) ponds – After an earthen fish pond is constructed, there are basically 4 steps to conditioning it for stocking. These are;

A Beginner Guide to Catfish Farming

  1. Liming – This entails using safe liming chemicals generously in the pond to enhance nutrient release from organic matter, while also killing pathogens and predacious organisms. Liming substances include Quick lime, Agricultural lime, Lime stone, etc. and are readily available in agriculture input markets. One natural liming material you can easily collect from your own regular activities is wood ash. Lime is applied to newly constructed fish ponds and allowed to stay for about 4 days for effectiveness.
  2. Netting – While liming proceeds to kill or drive away other organisms such as frogs, toads and reptiles that may be harmful to your fish fingerlings, it is time to install a top cover of entangling net over the whole surface of your pond to prevent new predators from returning after the effect of lime has diminished. It also prevents predacious birds from invading you pond to pick fish for consumption. The entangling net serves as a protective barrier between these and your fish and would even trap (entangle) stubborn predators that come in contact with it.
  3. Filling with water – This process is otherwise known as impoundment. On completion of the liming process, water can be introduced into an earthen fish pond. Note that ponds in certain swamps may already be self-filled with water from the construction stage. In such cases, simply carry out processes described in ‘i’, ‘ii’ and ‘iv’ as step ‘iii’ would be already completed naturally.
  4. Fertilization / Application of manure – Since earthen ponds are very natural fish growing spaces, it is important to enhance their natural productivity by applying organic manure. To do this, simply tie up some animal dung / poultry droppings in a porous bag/sac and place such bags at a few points within the fish pond. Leave pond for another 4 – 7 days during which you should see a bright green coloration developing in the pond water. This indicates healthy living micro plants doing well in the pond. Fish can then be introduced to the ponds safely.

A Beginner Guide to Catfish Farming

The following are activities that make up your fish farming venture.

SEE ALSO: HOW TO PREPARE FISH PONDS FFOR STOCKING

Stocking – this is simply the introduction of your fish stock to the ponds where they should be grown. To do this, simply get a portion of water from your pond to mix with that in the bowl where your fingerlings have been moved to the pond site.

You can then gently place this bowl in your pond water, bend it slightly and allow your fish swim out into the pond. This process helps ensure that you do not give your fish stock a sharp shock from their previous environment into your new pond.

A Beginner Guide to Catfish Farming

Feeding – 2 to 4 hours from the time your fish are introduced into their new home, they should be ready to accept feeds. Some of the fish feed brands you can readily buy from the market include Aller Aqua, Skretting, Blue Crown, Koudijs, and Vital feeds. Each feed is also classified as 1mm, 2mm, 3mm, 4mm, 6mm etc., ‘mm’ representing millimeters and simply referring to the size of that feed that fish mouth can take at each stage of their growth.

In fish farming, observation is your strong hold. You must continually observe your fish behavior to determine what feed size and quantity they require per time. Your observation also helps you detect when they are likely disturbed or unhealthy, so you can give them timely help.

You can administer feeds to fingerlings as often as 3 times in a day, while frequency of feeding for grown fish can be reduced to just twice daily. Ensure that water in the pond is good enough before you feed and you should discontinue feeding when you notice that the pond water is due to be changed. Fish would usually vomit their undigested feeds when their pond water is drained.

Pond Cleaning – Normal fish activities will leave organic deposits in the fish ponds. To prevent these from accumulating beyond safe limits, pond water should be refreshed and the pond walls (concrete, tarpaulin, and plastic ponds) cleaned. Avoid using chemical soaps in fish ponds.

Using a generous spray of splash of clean water may suffice while light brushes or sponges with table salt can be used to wash heavily stained ponds. It is recommended that the fish be starved for 6 – 8 hours before their water is completely drained, so as not to have them throw up the undigested feeds they still have in them.

Sorting – As often as every 2 weeks, at fingerling and juvenile stages of fish growth, the fish need to be sorted / graded according to their sizes into different ponds if available. Sorting schedules can be reduced to once in a month as they grow beyond 6 weeks until they exceed 3 months of age when further sorting may no longer be necessary.

This is to have fish of uniform sizes in each pond such that they can all have access to proper feeding. It also helps protect smaller fish from being consumed by bigger ones because catfish are naturally carnivorous.

Stock taking – It is important to ensure that feed given to fish is adequately converted to fish flesh. Randomly selected fish samples can be taken from the entire stock on monthly basis to be weighed and recorded.

This record can be compared with existing records of feed used, so as to determine whether or not the fish are converting feeds effectively. If you observe that fish feed is not directly reflecting in fish weight gain, it may be time to check again if all the conditions necessary for their well being have been in place.

Fish acquired from the right source and which have good growth potentials should normally gain weight that measures about the same weight of good quality fish feed used to raise them.

Harvesting –After the fish growing period, the fish stock is due for harvest and may all be sold in one crop or in bits. When harvesting in bits, it is important not to stress the fish too often as this could make them totally unreceptive to feed and may result in loss of weight earlier gained.

OBSERVING FISH BEHAVIOR 

Healthy catfish swim generously and randomly across the length, breadth and dept of the fish pond water. As feeding is done daily, you should ensure to take some time to watch out for irregularities in their behavior.

A lot of deductions can be made from how your fish swim, float or cluster within the fish pond. The following are some observable changes in physical features or behavior of catfish and what they may suggest.

Positive signs

  • Fish swimming energetically and well distributed all across the water column – This is an indication that fish are healthy, without stress and enjoy the quality of water in which they are held.
  • Fish buoyant in water with an even body coloration, free of patches and falling off slime – An indication that there is no external infection with which the fish is threatened.
  • Fish rush adequately for feed daily – This may suggest that they are not disturbed from within and the pond water is adequately aerated.
  • Fish cluster more at one side of the fish pond although still swimming actively and buoyant – The other side of the pond may be exposed to some more light than the other and catfish tend to enjoy darker spaces more than the brighter one. They are safe.

Negative signs

  • Fish hang vertically around the water surface with very low activity – This is often an indication that they are stressed due to low dissolved oxygen in water, oily water surface or general weakness caused by an infection. First aid action should be to stop any further feeding, discharge the pond water and refill with fresh water.
  • Fish skull, mouth and fin lines, barbels or skin have noticeable white patches – This is an indication of a growing infection that must be tackled immediately. Discontinue feeding, reduce water in fish pond to as low as 10% and dissolve table salt at a rate of 1kg in 1,000liters of water to have them held in this salt solution for 30 minutes. Refill the fish pond after this and continue fish care as normal. Stubborn infections may require a daily repeat of this process or use of other medications. Help should be sought from experienced fish farmers prior to using synthetic medications.
  • Fish look good but do not rush for feed – Your fish may simply not be hungry. This may be due to excessively low temperature on cold days that slow down the digestion of previously consumed feeds. Simply discontinue feeding and allow enough time till they begin to rush for feed.
  • Fish swim upside down and in zig-zag pattern – Fish are suffering from an infection. Discontinue feeding and carry out salt bath as above. Seek help if there’s need to use other delicate medications.
  • Fish swim sideways with a swollen stomach and without balance in water – This condition is called gas-bubble trauma. Isolate the affected fish in a separate bowl or tank and administer no feed to it. Within one or two days, the fish condition should normalize and it can be returned to the main pond with others.
  • One or two fish is bruised on the skin and seeking a safe hideout – This could be the fish stock manifesting their cannibalistic tendencies by trying to feed on one or two injured fish. This is sometimes stimulated by insufficient feed given to the fish or a case of overcrowding in such fish ponds. Isolate the wounded fish in a separate pond or bowl and care for it in there till the bruises are all healed.
  • Fish hang vertically around the water surface with very low activity – This is often an indication that they are stressed due to low dissolved oxygen in water, oily water surface or general weakness caused by an infection. First aid action should be to stop any further feeding, discharge the pond water and refill with fresh water.
  • Fish skull, mouth and fin lines, barbels or skin have noticeable white patches – This is an indication of a growing infection that must be tackled immediately. Discontinue feeding, reduce water in fish pond to as low as 10% and dissolve table salt at a rate of 1kg in 1,000liters of water to have them held in this salt solution for 30 minutes. Refill the fish pond after this and continue fish care as normal. Stubborn infections may require a daily repeat of this process or use of other medications. Help should be sought from experienced fish farmers prior to using synthetic medications.
  • Fish look good but do not rush for feed – Your fish may simply not be hungry. This may be due to excessively low temperature on cold days that slow down the digestion of previously consumed feeds. Simply discontinue feeding and allow enough time till they begin to rush for feed.
  • Fish swim upside down and in zig-zag pattern – Fish are suffering from an infection. Discontinue feeding and carry out salt bath as above. Seek help if there’s need to use other delicate medications.
  • Fish swim sideways with a swollen stomach and without balance in water – This condition is called gas-bubble trauma. Isolate the affected fish in a separate bowl or tank and administer no feed to it. Within one or two days, the fish condition should normalize and it can be returned to the main pond with others.
  • One or two fish is bruised on the skin and seeking a safe hideout – This could be the fish stock manifesting their cannibalistic tendencies by trying to feed on one or two injured fish. This is sometimes stimulated by insufficient feed given to the fish or a case of overcrowding in such fish ponds. Isolate the wounded fish in a separate pond or bowl and care for it in there till the bruises are all healed.

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